How to avoid diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is currently not preventable, though research focused on what causes it may one day lead to preventative measures. For type 2 and gestational diabetes, however, many of the treatment options involving lifestyle changes can help delay or even prevent diabetes. Here, we offer four lifestyle tips on how to avoid diabetes.

1. Maintain a healthy weight.

In this day and age, we now have sensible diets designed for those dealing with diabetes. We have snacks for diabetics, diabetic breakfasts, and diabetic desserts. Even though there are more choices, we still need to eat a balanced, healthy diet that helps you maintain an appropriate weight or body mass index. It’s one of the most critical measures you can take to delay or prevent diabetes.

A large-scale, national study called the Diabetes Prevention Program concluded that people can delay or potentially prevent type 2 diabetes by losing 5 to 7 percent of their body weight through 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. (See No. 2 below.)

Reducing high-sugar, high-fat, and processed foods and increasing your intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is a great way to start a healthy eating plan. Keeping track of your portion size and total caloric intake is also very important. Consulting with a registered dietitian who can help you create easy, healthy meal plans can be very helpful.

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2. Exercise regularly.

Increasing your physical activity can help you maintain an ideal body weight in addition to decreasing your risk of many other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Finding a form of exercise that you can easily fit into your daily routine and that you enjoy will increase your chances of making it a lifelong habit.

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If you have other health problems, you will want to consult your healthcare provider about an exercise plan that’s safe for you. (See also our post “Get Moving Before Symptoms of Diabetes Appear.”)

3. Know your risk factors.

Knowing what risk factors you might have for diabetes is another key factor. If you know that you have a higher chance of developing the disease, making lifestyle changes early on will be afford you the best chances of delaying or even preventing diabetes. (See also our post “How Do You Get Diabetes?“)

4. Get regular check-ups to learn how to avoid diabetes.

Seeing your healthcare provider on a regular basis will allow him or her to monitor for warning signs, essentially showing you how to avoid diabetes. The sooner these signs are detected, the sooner preventative and therapeutic measures can be taken.

For more on diabetes, please visit these University Health News posts:

Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.

7. Honey, Agave Nectar, and Maple Syrup

People with diabetes often try to minimize their intake of white table sugar, as well as treats like candy, cookies and pie.

However, other forms of sugar can also cause blood sugar spikes. These include brown sugar and “natural” sugars like honey, agave nectar and maple syrup.

Although these sweeteners aren’t highly processed, they contain at least as many carbs as white sugar. In fact, most contain even more.

Below are the carb counts of a one-tablespoon serving of popular sweeteners:

  • White sugar: 12.6 grams
  • Agave nectar: 16 grams
  • Honey: 17 grams
  • Maple syrup: 13 grams
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In one study, people with prediabetes experienced similar increases in blood sugar, insulin and inflammatory markers regardless of whether they consumed 1.7 ounces (50 grams) of white sugar or honey.

Your best strategy is to avoid all forms of sugar and use natural low-carb sweeteners instead.

Summary: Honey, agave nectar and maple syrup are not as processed as white table sugar, but they may have similar effects on blood sugar, insulin and inflammatory markers.

9. Packaged Snack Foods

Pretzels, crackers and other packaged foods aren’t good snack choices.

They’re typically made with refined flour and provide few nutrients, although they have plenty of fast-digesting carbs that can rapidly raise blood sugar.

Here are the carb counts for a one-ounce (28-gram) serving of some popular snacks:

  • Saltine crackers: 21 grams of carbs, including 1 gram of fiber
  • Pretzels: 22 grams of carbs, including 1 gram of fiber
  • Graham crackers: 21 grams of carbs, including 1 gram of fiber

In fact, some of these foods may contain even more carbs than stated on their nutrition label. One study found that snack foods provide 7.7% more carbs, on average, than the label states.

If you get hungry in between meals, it’s better to eat nuts or a few low-carb vegetables with an ounce of cheese.

Summary: Packaged snacks are typically highly processed foods made from refined flour that can quickly raise your blood sugar levels.

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